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As the reviews editor for Comic Book Resources, I accumulate a lot of collected editions. For better or worse, trade-waiting has become a part of the comics landscape, but it’s easy to tell when a collection rises above the pack. Whether it’s through superior craftsmanship, incredible bonus material, attention to the little details or a combination of all three, there are always a few trades that rise to the top, and make for an enjoyable reading experience and a fantastic display piece.
Thus, here are a few of my favorite collected editions of 2014, factoring in the strength of the original material, and what makes the collection worth picking up for those that might already own the single issues — ranging from budget-conscious trades up through the incredibly pricey omnibus editions.
Bad Machinery is an all-ages webcomic about a group of British schoolchildren who solve mysteries and generally act like normal kids.
When I say that, I mean it as the highest compliment. Too many children’s books, both graphic novels and prose, exist in some sort of never-never land where all families are happy and all the children are well-behaved, except for one or two who are explicitly evil. The kids in Bad Machinery aren’t like that. They don’t do anything truly horrific, but they do disobey their parents, talk in slang, and best of all, poke their noses where they really shouldn’t. Each story arc is a supernatural mystery of some sort, and the supernatural creatures are real, but usually pretty benign in the end.
“It feels like the right time to do it. The characters have outgrown the setting, the premise and the format,” he explains on his blog. “I’ve tinkered with the comic for three cases, with mixed results — a whole story of giant pages, then lots of little strips, but I’ve felt like I was in a holding pattern for the last couple of years. I don’t want to stop telling stories with these characters, but I’m not sure I can do much more with them without returning to the drawing board. There’s definitely more to come from Charlotte, Shauna and the rest of them, but you might not see much of them for a little while.”
I admit, I’m something of a lapsed reader when it comes to John Allison’s Scary Go Round, which was one of my favorite webcomics for the longest time. There was Allison’s cheeky and very British humor that treated mystical horrors with a heaping dollop of cartoonishness, and the thrill of following his evolving art style.
Scary Go Round started at Joey Manley’s Modern Tales site, when it featured a simpler and gentler computer-generated style created with Adobe Illustrator. In 2005, Allison switched to hand-drawn art that was more angular, boldly whimsical and thickly inked.
Both styles were very appealing, although they affected the humor in different ways. The earlier art was more low key: when eventual main character Shelley Winters becomes a zombie, part of the humor stems from how it’s brushed off as a minor nuisance. Later, Allison is more willing to embrace the maniacal ridiculousness. Basically, it went from being Friends to something out of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavour Cornetto Trilogy.
Cartoonist John Allison surprised many in 2009 when he ended his long-running webcomic Scary Go Round and soon launched Bad Machinery, which follows the adventures of two groups of child detectives in the fictional town of Tackleford, England, he established more than a decade earlier in his first online strip Bobbins.
Allison is the first to acknowledge those first months were rocky for the kids of Griswalds Grammar School, with a number of Scary Go Round readers abandoning the new comic, despite its familiar setting. But four years later, it’s a different story for Bad Machinery, which in 2012 won a British Comic Award; the first print collection, released last spring by Oni Press, was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best children’s books of 2013.
With a second volume, “The Case of the Good Boy,” set to arrive in March, Allison took some time during the holidays to talk with ROBOT 6 about finding an audience, making the jump to print, returning to Bobbins and what the future holds for Bad Machinery.
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at all the comics and other stuff we’ve been checking out lately. Today our special guest is Chris Sims, senior writer for ComicsAlliance, blogger at Chris’s Invincible Super Blog and writer of comics like Dracula the Unconquered and Awesome Hospital.
To see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
Welcome to “Cheat Sheet,” ROBOT 6′s guide to the week ahead. Even as some attendees unpack from last week’s Fables Con: Fabletown & Below in Rochester, Minnesota, other folks are checking off their to-do lists before heading off to Anaheim, California, later this week for WonderCon.
Meanwhile, our contributors rattle off their picks for the best comics going on sale Wednesday, from Bad Machinery, Vol. 1, to Superman Vs. Zod to East of West #1.
It’s time once again for our monthly trip through Previews looking for cool, new comics. We’ve each picked the five comics we’re most anticipating in order to create a list of the best new stuff coming out two months from now.
As usual, please feel free to play along in the comments. Tell us what we missed that you’re looking forward to or – if you’re a comics creator – mention your own stuff.
Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time #1 (of 12): I’m a sucker for Doctor Who, I think I’ve said that before, right …? No surprise, then, that I’m very much looking forward to this year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the BBC science-fiction show, with each issue spotlighting a different incarnation of the character. That Simon Fraser is providing art helps a lot, too; I’ve been a big fan of his “Nikolai Dante” work for 2000AD for a while. (IDW Publishing, $3.99)
One Trick Rip-Off/Deep-Cuts hardcover: Speaking of things that I’m a big fan of, Paul Pope easily fits that bill, so this enhanced reprint of his Dark Horse graphic novel — with more than 150 pages of rare and unseen work from the same period, including his Supertrouble manga — is far too tempting to pass up. (Image Comics, $29.99)
Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #1 (of 4): I was very impressed with Star Trek: Countdown back in 2009, and the way it teased the then-upcoming J.J. Abrams reboot without giving too much away, so I’m looking forward to see if this prologue to this summer’s sequel is just as fun. (IDW, $3.99)
Star Wars #1: Brian Wood and Star Wars feel like an odd pairing in my head, but everything I’ve read about this new ongoing series set after the first movie (which is to say, Episode IV these days) seems completely up my alley, and the 5-year-old within me is completely sold on the chance to see more stories set in the “true” Star Wars era. (Dark Horse, $3.50)
Young Avengers #1: Kieron GIllen and Jamie McKelvie pairing on anything is pretty much a must-read for me, but seeing them let loose on Marvel’s teen characters and seemingly determined to make them actually seem like teenagers. … Yeah, this looks like it may be one of my favorite superhero books in quite some time, I suspect. (Marvel, $2.99)
I woke up this morning to a breakthrough on my RSS reader. Bad Machinery cartoonist John Allison has defined for me a new kind of comic: a cookbook comic (or would it be comic cookbook?). Although not the first to do it, Allison’s most recent Bad Machinery strip boils it down (pardon the pun) into an easy-to-digest (pardon the other pun) form.
Libraries | An editorial in the Lewiston, Maine, newspaper praises a local school board’s decision last week to leave the 2007 comics anthology Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age in the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School library following a parent’s complaints about “objectionable sexual and language references”: “American culture can be graphically sexual and explicitly foul and it’s important that young people learn how to navigate that world in a responsible way. The best possible way, of course, is for parents to steer their children through that process, but not every parent does and many children are left adrift. So, the next-better place to learn is the school library, where a responsible adult can help educate children about their hormone-charged emerging feelings in a confusingly sensual culture.” [Sun Journal]
Business | Wizard magazine founder Gareb Shamus, who resigned earlier this month as president and chief executive officer of Wizard World Inc., will sell most of his shares in the company to his successor, who’s expected to be named next month. [Bleeding Cool]
Scary Go Round, Bad Machinery, and Giant Days webcomics impresario John Allison is throwing down the gauntlet. In his “Manifesto for UK Indie Comics in 2010″, the cartoonist offers some very blunt advice for aspiring comics creators, on everything from content to format to fandom to your personal demeanor as a creator. As is the case with most comics manifestos, there’s stuff in it I applaud, stuff in it that’s somewhere between a nasty rude awakening and a much-needed kick in the pants, and stuff that makes my skin crawl.
For example, I am generally speaking a diary-comics skeptic, and thus point #7, “Diary comics: stop it,” strikes me as advice potentially worth heeding, especially for new cartoonists looking for a way to channel their energies. On the other hand, point #3, “Make comics for people who don’t make comics,” though it sounds like a good enough idea, basically writes off vast swathes of the medium’s best work:
Why is anyone other than your comic making friends and a few select interested parties going to read an art-damaged visual tone-poem about the inside of your psyche? Learn how to engage and entertain people. It’s a profoundly useful skill.
It turns out the best way to make sea monsters even more awesome apparently isn’t to inject them into a Jane Austen novel, but rather to pair them with Sunflower-era Beach Boys. John Allison of Bad Machinery fame discovered this, awing us all with a print he describes as, “Sea monster approaches Beach Boys c.1969 to get Pet Sounds signed.” (You can see a large version here.) I must own it.